City Council Approves Member Item Reforms

To Take Politics Out Of Process

A rules reform package to change how City Council member items are distributed that would equalize the starting amount for each district passed the City Council unanimously last Wednesday, May 14.

The rules changes will take effect starting in fiscal year 2015, which begins on July 1. The changes are focused on giving every City Council member a funding base that can then be increased due to their districts needs. Members will be able to apply for additional funds to support projects and community organizations predicated on poverty levels in their district.

City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley believes the reforms were necessitated by an outdated, opaque system that was often highly politicized.

In praising the changes, Crowley applauded the body for reforming a flawed, unfair system that did not reward the most deserving members, or districts.

Speaking of the way political business had been done, Crowley said, “the amount each member was given had little to do with how much funding our districts needed or how hard we worked as members. Instead, it was decided by our political standing with the speaker.”

The aim of the member item reforms is to equalize the amount of funding and remove the ability of the Council Speaker to play favorites with discretionary funds.

“In years past, the member item process known to this body was often used as a political tool–a tool used to disproportionately reward some members and to punish others,” Crowley said in a statement on the reforms.

“Today is a good day for the New York City Council. It’s a good day for fairness, a good day for our taxpayers,” Crowley added.

For discretionary expenses, the reforms establish an equal distribution for core member item amounts, which include funds for local organizations, youth projects and senior service programs. The reforms also provide needs-based increases to Council members, based on the number of constituents living in poverty in their district.

The reforms alter the distribution of capital funds as well, equalizing the amount within a range.

Other rules changes to discretionary funding allocations include a “speakers list,” limited to 50 percent of total member expenses and increased transparency that adds new open data requirements for searches, so voters can track spending and amounts granted to Council members.

Crowley believes the reforms will balance the process and remove the ability of the speaker to favor certain members.

“We are reforming the rules so that never again will one leader be able to use these dollars to punish another leader. The ones who would end up truly suffering because of this political process were the countless New Yorkers, the taxpayers, who expect their government to provide the services they deserve,” she added.